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York woman sues Springetts police and Walmart in federal court, alleging civil-rights violations

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
Walmart on East Market Street in Springettsbury Twp. on April 4, 2020.
(Dawn J. Sagert photo)

A 43-year-old York City woman has sued Springettsbury Township, seven of its police officers and Walmart, alleging she was wrongly arrested and falsely charged with shoplifting because she is Black.

The civil-rights lawsuit, filed Dec. 17 in Harrisburg's federal court, states that Latoya Batty was detained, arrested, slammed to the ground and punched in the head, apparently because Walmart and police thought she was someone who had previously shoplifted $1,000 worth of merchandise there.

The lawsuit alleges Walmart has a "policy of treating African-Americans as thieves and criminals" and that in this case, Walmart employees and Springettsbury Township Police accused her of having three felonies when she has no criminal record at all.

Batty suffered injuries including a concussion, headaches caused by neck injuries, spasms of her neck muscles, loss of balance, dizziness, post-concussion headaches, numbness and tingling to part of her face and memory issues, according to the lawsuit, as well as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

She was hospitalized and subsequently underwent physical therapy for about three months, the lawsuit states.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove, in an emailed statement, said, "We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind. Walmart is committed to providing an inclusive shopping experience for all of our customers and we take allegations like this seriously. We will respond with the Court as appropriate after we are served with the Complaint."

'Change' sought: "We look forward to litigating this case and to bringing more cases like it," said Harrisburg-based attorney Leticia Freed-Chavez, who is jointly representing Batty with Philadelphia-based attorney Alan Denenberg. "I think that's the only way things are going to change for many people."

The lawsuit goes on to state: 

"It is believed … that there are numerous prior complaints against Springettsbury Township Police Officers for arresting African-American citizens without evidence or probable cause and continuing the prosecution against them despite their knowledge that the person did not commit the crime for which he or she was charged."

Harrisburg-based attorney Andrew Norfleet, who represents the township and police officers in the case, said he couldn't publicly comment on any specific allegations made in the lawsuit.

"We agree that no one should be treated unfairly or unjustly because of the color of their skin, but we're confident when the full story and facts surrounding this matter are told, it will be clear that's not what happened here," he said.

The Springettsbury Township Police Department in Springettsbury Township, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The allegations: According to the lawsuit, Batty called the Walmart on East Market Street in Springettsbury Township on Jan. 27, 2019, to ask about items she purchased but had mistakenly forgotten in the store the day before.

She was told by customer service that they were holding her items for her to pick up, the suit states.

Batty went to the store to pick up the items, but the man working at the customer-service desk refused to give them to her, according to the lawsuit.

Batty was uncertain what was happening and told the employee she had more items to buy and that she would return to the counter to pick up the bag of previous purchases, the lawsuit states. When she returned to the desk, the male employee berated her, according to the suit.

Walmart called township police, and officers including Lt. Brian Wilbur and Officer Jamie Miller arrived, according to the lawsuit, which names as defendants Wilbur, Miller and five as-yet-unidentified officers.

Seized and punched? Batty had receipts for all her purchases but despite that, officers and Walmart employees "seized" her, rushed her into a back room, threw her to the floor "and began to repeatedly punch the Plaintiff in the head with their fists," despite the fact that she was not resisting arrest, the lawsuit alleges.

Police handcuffed her, accused her of having three felonies on her record and took her to the police station after slamming the cruiser door on her leg, the lawsuit alleges.

Once at the station, they fingerprinted her more than 10 times "in an effort to establish that she was the individual with 'three felonies,'" according to the lawsuit.

Police then took Batty, in shackles, to a local hospital to be treated, after which they "admitted that she was not the person who committed the thefts at the Walmart and that they had made a mistake in arresting her," the lawsuit states.

But six weeks later, township police filed a summary retail-theft citation against her "in order to justify their unreasonable and unconstitutional seizure of the Plaintiff and unreasonable and unconstitutional use of force of the Plaintiff," the lawsuit alleges, claiming the officers acted with malice.

Citation thrown out: Batty had receipts for all her purchases and a district judge threw out the case, according to her lawsuit. Information about the case is no longer public.

The lawsuit claims Springettsbury Township is aware that police treat Black people differently than white people and has "acquiesced" to it.

It argues that Walmart, seven Springettsbury Township officers and the township itself violated her Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure and malicious prosecution.

It also alleges they violated her 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law by committing "intentional and purposeful discrimination" against Batty because she is Black.

She is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys' fees and any other relief deemed appropriate.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.